07/09/2004 - 22:00

Olsens’ seachange takes in Canada

07/09/2004 - 22:00

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When Steve and Ann Marie Olsen decided to leave the city behind and settle in Margaret River 20 years ago, they did so primarily so their children could grow up away from the city.

Olsens’ seachange takes in Canada

When Steve and Ann Marie Olsen decided to leave the city behind and settle in Margaret River 20 years ago, they did so primarily so their children could grow up away from the city.

Canada was probably the last place they were thinking about.

But Canada has since become a focus, of sorts, with Olsen Wines recently winning accolades from Austrade for breaking in to that market, considered by many to be a challenging export destination.

Olsen Wines planted its first vines shortly after the family arrived in Margaret River.

“We left Perth to raise our four children in the country about 20 years ago and planted vines then,” Mr Olsen says.

“Not long after this we established a contract with Houghton.”

The relationship the Olsens formed with one of Western Australia’s wine industry heavyweights has stood the test of time, with Olsen and Houghton still working together today.

The Olsen label took some time to evolve, however, with the first bottles hitting shelves in 1996.

“About 75 per cent of our grapes go to Houghton but we’ve been fortunate enough to have some flexibility in our contract”, Mr Olsen says.

“Ideally, we’d like to have about 50 per cent of our grapes go into producing wine for the Olsen label.”

Currently the 15-hectare Olsen vineyard consists of cabernet, chardonnay, merlot and shiraz varieties, all of which are shared between Houghton and Olsen’s winemakers – Ross Pamment and Simon Osicka (and until recently Larry Cherubino), and Bernard Abbott and Mr Olsen’s son, Jarrad.

“We’re producing about 5,000 cases of wine a year, but in future we’d like to see that move up to 20,000, a number we are capable of producing,” Mr Olsen says.

“Our aim is to create a wine that people will enjoy.  And in that commitment to making quality wine we would hope that we could sell as much as we produce.”

And while that’s probably an ambition common to most winemakers, the Olsens have looked to the world market to achieve their aim, with significant reward.

“Over about 18 months of hard work we’ve been able to create a good base in Toronto,” Mr Olsen says. “The licensing arrangements in Canada are notoriously difficult, and are different in each province.

“A big thanks goes to Austrade for their assistance, as it was quite difficult to organise in the beginning.”

While Canada may be in a class of its own in the area of export, the Olsen label may soon also surface in London, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

“We’ve developed a marketing plan and have some of our wines being tasted in London, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, “ Mr Olsen says.

“We’re working toward developing a niche.”

Mr Olsen believes that creating a strong export portfolio can only help build presence in other markets.

“The volume of wine in WA is huge so we do tastings by appointment here, but we do have an agent in Sydney who is doing quite well,” he says.

“We haven’t really thought of opening a cellar door here yet; I suppose because we are a short distance from the heart of Margaret River, we’re located north-east of the Margaret River centre.”

Olsen Wines is in Osmington, between Cowaramup and Margaret River.

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